A tribute to an outstanding newsman
I trusted Mike Myer.
Whether I needed a second opinion on an editorial or wanted to be sure my car was safe to drive, I knew Mike wouldn’t steer me wrong.
J. Michael Myer, executive editor of The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register, died suddenly Wednesday morning. He was 69 years old.
I first met Mike in the summer of 1998, when I was a young teacher without an employment contract for the coming year. I dreaded the prospect of going back to on-call work as a substitute. So, I answered a classified ad seeking to hire a newspaper reporter.
If Mike hadn’t decided to take a chance on me, I wouldn’t be a journalist today.
A few days after he hired me as a member of the Ohio Bureau staff for the News-Register, I received a job offer from a private school. Mike actually advised me to take it — he said I would never become wealthy as a journalist and told me it would be hard work. But by then I was already hooked. Like Mike, I felt I could make a real difference where I was.
During my interview, Mike asked three questions that I remember. They went something like this:
How do you feel about chasing ambulances?
What is the difference between sewage and sewerage?
What’s the difference between a rifle and a shotgun?
Apparently I had the answers he was looking for.
First, I replied that I was no lawyer and didn’t have much experience chasing ambulances but that I would be willing to if my job was to report the news. Second, I inferred correctly that sewerage was the network of pipes that transports the actual waste products. And finally, I knew without a doubt that a rifle barrel had grooves inside that would cause a projectile to spin, increasing its accuracy compared to a load fired from a smooth-barreled shotgun.
I guess Mike approved of my answers. He told me that I interviewed very well and sent me on my way. A few weeks later, I was working for him.
From the very beginning of my career with our local newspapers, I always felt that I could ask Mike about anything. When I didn’t know how to approach a particular story or how to ask a tough question, Mike provided guidance. When I didn’t understand something about the inner workings of local government or a financial matter I was working on, Mike always took time to explain.
The same was true when it came to more personal matters, though Mike was never one to pry. But if I had a car problem that was perplexing me or if I had a home improvement project I didn’t know quite how to approach, Mike always listened and provided a straightforward, honest opinion. If he didn’t know the answer, he said so.
Mike was a very busy man. He was prolific in writing editorials, one after the other, pretty much every day. I would often find him in the office on Saturday afternoons, dressed a bit more casually than on regular work days but still striving hard to ensure the newspapers were the best product that they could be.
Mike also wrote weekly — and at times twice weekly — columns, sharing his own insights on everything from West Virginia politics to fast cars, adorable kids and others’ acts of kindness.
On a daily basis he would leave his office just before News-Register press time, walk to the page design desk and go over page proofs with the people who worked there. He would suggest changes to the placement of certain stories or the wording of a headline. He also caught numerous mistakes that had slipped past others.
He was just as busy at home, often mentioning projects he was working on or telling me about taking his grandchildren to school or to their after-school activities. He absolutely adored his wife Connie, daughters Christina and Jessica and grandchildren Rocco and Jemma.
Despite his hectic schedule, Mike still had a way of always making time for others.
Even when his office door was closed, all I had to do was peek through the large window beside it and he would motion for me to come in. He would stop what he was doing and listen — really listen — to what I had to say, and then he would provide his own special brand of advice. When the answer was obvious whether I liked it or not, he was matter-of-fact. And although he could have a stern demeanor at times, there was almost always a twinkle in his eye or a smirk beneath his mustache as he provided feedback.
His willingness to help others did not stop at his office door. I can recall more than one occasion when he, being a rather tall and large man, reached out and grabbed the knob of a storage room door that was stuck and yanked it open for me. He never hesitated to raise the hood of my vehicle or to flop onto his back on the ground and slide beneath my car to investigate any sort of mechanical problem I might be having.
He was also a constant gentleman. I don’t think I ever opened a door for myself when he was around. I remember one specific instance when he insisted on walking me to my car in the rain as he held an umbrella over my head, all the while talking about his wife and daughters and how he wouldn’t want them to get their hair wet on a rainy evening.
I learned some of the real fundamentals of my job through conversations with Mike. When I became city editor of The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register, I was worried about all the little details of proofreading stories and managing reporters. But Mike told me to calm down about all of that and remember that I had one more responsibility that was even more important — “Don’t get us sued.”
I also learned a lot about American history, the people and places of the Northern Panhandle, race boats, muscle cars and even firearms through conversations with Mike. He loved West Virginia, and he loved to tell me — and anyone else who wanted to listen — tales of his boyhood in Wetzel County or of his somewhat adventurous years as a student at WVU. I heard how he met Connie, and I knew from years of listening to him talk about her that it was love at first sight — at least on his part.
He told me stories about traveling to the mountains of Virginia with his daughters and about working in the 1970s at weekly newspapers where the available technology left a lot to be desired.
There is not enough room here to list all the words I would use to describe him, but I will highlight a few: Professional, reliable, intelligent, inquisitive, committed, dedicated, kind, considerate, generous, fair, humble, honest, insightful … the list goes on and on. As a journalist, he was a devoted newspaperman and a willing mentor to many. As a person, he was a proud husband, father and grandfather and a wonderful friend.
I am a better person — and a much better journalist — for having known him. I will miss him, and I will honor his memory by trying to follow the very fine example that he set.